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Rosalind Brackenbury; Pico Iyer; Julie Sal... Education. (2013) 2013 Key West Literary Seminar Panel, 'How Far Can the Facts Take Us?'

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George Eliot 2, Reuters 2, Us 2, New York 2, Robert Kennedy 2, Phyllis 2, Henry James 2, Charlie Parker 2, Harold 2, Ben Webster 2, Bobby Orr 1, Conway 1, Narcissism 1, Pico Iyer 1, Fiction 1, Paris 1, John Rau 1, Cynthia 1, Gore Vidal 1, Sandy 1,
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  CSPAN    Book TV    Rosalind Brackenbury; Pico Iyer; Julie Sal...  Education.   
   (2013) 2013 Key West Literary Seminar Panel, 'How Far Can...  

    January 20, 2013
    12:40 - 1:25am EST  

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she had an affair with wilford scholar blunt. his diaries were opened in the 1940s and by the age of 60 marvelously having tired of john quinn in new york. she burned his letters immediately. he kept hers and they are in the public library to be red. very close to the letters that she wrote in her 40s. one of the most powerful pieces in the world at that time. the girlish love letters, always wanted to be punished by morton fullerton. please burn them but he kept them. so i think there is a very big difference if you write a biography of a woman worn before the 20th century. i think the best example of that is -- and jean strouse' biography tempting to piece
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together the life and we have the clues from of course her brother william, her brother henry and from her letters and from her diaries trying to work out that he died in her 40s and did not produce the work that her brothers produced but had the abiding wish that lacked a bit of prose style than either of them in a better mind -- a sharper mind than either of them. the only girl in the family of five sitting at the dinner table listening to them until a certain age when her mother made clear to her it's your job to start sewing and preparing yourself to be a mother and a bostonian matron. and her realizing whatever happened to her imagination did
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not match but was expected of her. so i think when you're writing if you are a woman you are always writing about oppression, self suppression and also being very very careful with the character emerges in the shining world in one piece. be very careful just to be sympathetic about the idea that takes enormous wealth. that takes an enormous amount of force within the self which can sometimes look like a sort of brutality or in a certain case of shrillness or in certain cases immense duplicity and should be very careful to read that in its context. and as part of its time. [applause]
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>> i am glad you are applauding and we are all applauding. i have just got to say you take my breath away. where did that speech come from? >> i just thought of it. it's true. >> thank you. there will now be a three hour intermission. [laughter] >> chris can i say something? the two questions are connected. in other words, that the one about why it's difficult to write across gender. right to your first question about why biographers sometimes develop passionate rebel shins of their subjects. is hard enough when you're riding in a biography spending years and years knowing intimate secrets of somebody else and is difficult enough that it's a friend. and other were someone the same with which you don't have an relationsrelations hip or if it's a quasi-lover you will end up in the divorce courts were wedded for life but it becomes much more charge.
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the relationship between biographer and biography which we haven't necessarily gotten into yet is so intense. that is why sometimes biographers love their subject and proceed out proceed out of the never wanting to hear about them again and are enraged. >> forgive me. i was just going to say and julie hold that thought. there is another distinction, fundamental distinction among the writers who spoken that is what i would call a historical journalistic biographers who are writing this and the literary biographers who are in a fashion apprenticing themselves to a subject and then writing about the inner relationship. you have yours pico and colm has suzanne james and mark for example. this is not just getting the facts straight or even getting the story coherent. is a much deeper kind of
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commitment. evened their bare rises more specifically this whole mystery of influence with or without anxiety or agony. julius to return. >> there are two different thoughts going on in relation to what you are talking about. and your relationship with the subject. obviously i think that anybody who starts to do a biography of somebody and you learn about their inner selves and their outer selves and you think of yourselves as a person. i have a sort of interesting horrible experience having to found a bag of diaries that i wrote in the 80s. when i was in my 30s and it was horrifying because as i read through these things i thought wow if anybody ever found these they would think i was the most depressed semisuicidal terrible person that ever existed.
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i sounded so disgusting that i hated myself. the narcissism. and i don't think that was the person that i portrayed to the world. i was this nice person from the midwest but inside was this raging beast. that is what i was writing down but as a biographer you are looking through all of these letters and scraps of paper and especially if it's a historical figure. you don't really have, except other letters and scraps of paper that you are trying to create this idea for person. when you are doing the literary biography you have the public writing of that person as well. so you are trying to piece together who this person was from all of these different things. you either identify with them so your identification becomes part of the process. it's an extremely weird and complicated matter. because you are dealing with the
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a person's perception of themselves, other people so you become a many psychologists without a degree and then comes this fascinating process. i'm not quite sure what to make of it but certainly certainly politics whether you're male or female plays a huge role in it. what aspect of that person struggle into becoming a person do you identify with? >> rosalind i wonder if you would sort of want to track phyllis rose and's minded what she was thinking but i sort of sensed it in the conversation of the three guys talking about their three guys. i think her fundamental question was enough already. what is going on in the sandbox with the boys? how do you read it or do you read anything like it? >> will i can't really channel
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phyllis. she has set a lot of good things but i'm aware that a lot of the audience is female. and you know it still happens that men get to talk a lot more. [laughter] i don't feel the way i used to in the last century for example about the feminist issues that came up when you had to be under guard all the time. such as mark who you thought was going to go on forever. [laughter] it was really interesting. >> i'm really sorry. >> no, no. i don't feel that way anymore. i almost don't feel -- may care what gender anyone is at the stage in life. i'm not conscious about it but the sideways take i want to take on this also but not only a lot of people here are women but also our novelists i think in wayford a tremendous amount about biography. bike and take this little detour for a minute.
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during the whole weekend that i had have been mulling this over. may be he transited this and -- but isn't there -- there's a difference between a novel in and a biography and i would like to know what colm and pico who has written fiction with have to say about this. it's a different take. you know when you write a poem you know you're writing a poem. one can read fiction and biography in the same way and there are certainly lots of overlap so we have been exploring but i think there's a different intent when you start to write a novel in your relationship to the maybe real person and the novel is different from if you are writing a biography. i don't think this has anything to do with being a man or woman. i think it's a writer's problem. i would be interested in with the other people who write novels on this panel have to say if they have anything to say
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about there. >> colm i think she wants you to talk forever now. [laughter] >> there is a letter from henry james to all of her when window homes just after the civil war. all of her window homes wants to join henry james in a place called north conway and james writes back to say look, can't this is great except we have searched high and wide for a bed for you but there isn't one so you will have to share a bed with me. there will be only one better lease at the beginning. then he said, i don't mind if you don't mind. as the woman said when the puppy dog her face. [laughter] now thought i am a biographer and i come to that, there is little i can do. there was perhaps only one bed but this may have changed by the time all over window homes went up there. we have no evidence what happened after that and as regards to the puppy dog,
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perhaps if you are a biographer who can take freud and read it carefully and say this remark is interesting of james. what an odd thing for him to say to her but there again perhaps it may have been a joke they have between them. a biographer has to be very very careful with that. don't judge that. don't go in and say all right i think i know what happened when he arrived. only one that. perhaps -- but if you are me and your novelists you suddenly realize, look what i have now. i have you no -- [laughter] so in a way there is that difference and so the idea of evidence for a biographer something that you have to be careful with them but for a second source for, analyze constantly remain sane, sober
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and serious in the reader has to trust you that you are not actually pushing the facts further than they might go. if you are novelists obviously the reader has to trust you to pick up the ball or a go at the puppy dog and see where the puppy dog will take you. if it takes you paragraph by paragraph by paragraph and that sort of strange night together in a bed with james awake all night with this wonderful soldier beside him in bed wondering what to do. should he? no. [laughter] is just too much. so you know that is an example of the difference. we need biographer's. in the same way as i suppose we need men. i wouldn't be without them. [laughter] >> can i just say something? i was talking to jay parini about this and we said maybe
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there should be a separate panel and the distinction between writers with irish or british accents and writers who are american because no matter what you guys say it always sounds so much more intelligent. [laughter] and we are always stuck with these american accents that inherently sound stupider. [laughter] >> can i spin off that james holmes thing? this may be way out of bounds but sheldon noveck sort of made a thing about that. and it's incredibly interesting and if james had been writing it to a girl, there is only one bed don't we have to sleep together it would have been different. inevitably a mystery in some sort of choice but then there is life. it immediately suggests as you are calling it now is john f. kennedy's relationship with a guy named lemoyne billings in prep school. lemoyne billings billings made a
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pass at him. i think on a sheet of toilet paper. kennedy sent it back and said no, that is not my way. and virtually from that day until the end of kennedy's life they were the most -- of friends. he lived in the white house with kennedy. yet this very private life but he was put in charge of robert kennedy's children. when robert kennedy died. it was the most intimate of friendships without interruption to the pinnacle of american power and it may have had nothing to do -- it had everything to do with i suppose but certainly not in terms of a sexual, explicitly sexual relationship. may be there is a a novelist who could come up scenario too. i never bought this picture of holmes and james but that's another thing entirely.
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>> i love what jay said yesterday that all biography is fiction. i owe ioa stop the memoirs fiction. the great memoirs i think are like -- which is a novel. and john makary's novel a perfect spy and is the difference between truth and fact. the facts and the truth rather, between the truth which is in the realm of emotions and intuition and imagination in the facts which is in the realm of information. if somebody were writing let's say about my wife she would collect as we have been saying these last couple of days birthdays and histories and perhaps diaries like judy was talking about but i is somebody living with her have to try to see the world through her eyes. i have every moment to see how i look i look it up your horizon that is novelists. as to become her rather than
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just observing her. and that is why i think people like you write novels because you can actually inhabit the person from within and catch so much deeper the fundamental aspect of her. >> what i would say is a biographer, you are trying to accomplish both and it's just a trickier line. you can inhabit the character entirely in the novel. i think if you're trying to write a good laugh of do you have to be able to take the point of view of that character. in fact when you start thinking about the people in the books, i talk to them as characters. you think of them as characters but then you have to step back again and it's this weird thing of saying well they are not fictional characters. so it becomes a very complicated dance really. the truth is once you start, if you write your biography is a narrative you are using a lot of tricks of fiction.
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i guess automatically as soon as you put it inside the framework of the book you were cheating because life does not unfold. there's a lot of stuff you just wouldn't say so it's an insures in question. >> just one quick sentence i think it speaks also to the title of the seminar. i was just reading a biography about the issue last week in the person said if he woke up one day and wrote in his diary that i had breakfast at 6:00 in the morning. when later he was putting together one of his books i woke up at 8:00 in the morning and i had cheese for breakfast. what a scoundrel. how could he bear to twist his diaries? i thought that is our. that is why we are interested. he is a writer. he is transforming the experience into a narrative to share with us. >> can i ask? writers write and they write about writer's. i keep wondering what are we missing that we can't hear a
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version of these biographies among say composure's -- composers or even hockey players. no child with a great gift learns to play the alto saxophone without having to confront charlie parker. is like having to confront henry james at some point. there is this guy on the mountaintop and louis armstrong for example. they rewrote the language of that instrument and you have got to deal with it. you know know if you're a hockey player there is bobby orr in the historical canon. again whenever i talked to harold bloom about these things we always end up talking about musicians. coleman hawkins and lester young or you know in duke ellington spanned ben webster held a tenor saxophone chair in the 30s into the 40s and then paul gonzÁlez came to the band in the 50s and he was sitting in ben
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webster's chair. everybody knew it. he was playing in the shadow that man and i mentioned a mention it partly to say that i don't think people abbreviate harold bloom to say it's all about you know paris side. you have to kill the father. i don't think this infinite love is in a tutu but these these guys don't ever get to voice it as explicitly as the writers do. implicitly i think maybe it should be our goal to listen to those versions for what they are saying to each other about each other. charlie parker plays with johnny hunter who is the king of the tenor saxophone before him and i hear nothing but this kind of you know praise and thank you, thank you and i'm working on your blues tune and funky blues johnny and i'm playing two courses after you. it's like i'm playing with god but i am taking a completely different direction. anyway the question and there is somehow, can we learn somehow to
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look at architecture and painting and music and all of these other ways in terms of these relationships that get written
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>> it is the most private and important thing of your life.
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i just feel taking that anxiety and influence, i do wonder but i do not agree. [applause] >> i ate totally agree there is of the stake at a the way competition is set up in society. it is a loss like resources.
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i see you are entirely right to. the other is not entirely wrong but there is a month in the conversation. said the i had a great pleasure and interviewing him and he still plays and hoss said the arrival of cold trade but when we
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played music, as sandy is the belief of lee -- unbelievably articulate broad man and almost overcome by the glory of the people. he says i cannot believe that i played with bud. said respect of the men that he played with, he was thrilled it almost paralyzed with the joy. also based that i will come back at you. they will be different and i will learn from you and put one in your pocket. there is unbelievable privilege and devotion to the people who can do it. >> those whose say they view should not pick up the pen.
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i think anybody who starts to right, you read the great writers and you are influenced. and he tried to go as far to learn and to grow and change i tried all different john rau. biography, a journalism, fiction, i had just written a children's book. maybe that is a weakness that you try different forms. quite honestly i a still flown away by a book that i read a book that already has ever heard of. you tizzy the exalted place but then you also try to find your place with senate side don't a hundred percent
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understand the argument may be your. >> he uses this model of a as part of his attraction to jazz as the call of response to cut contest to destroy each other. we blew the ban stand away and it is a sport but secondly, he is the first human kugel search engine he has so much literature churning and he does have a
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way to see it as a web of connected borrowing. hall anxiety question is overdone. as a world that is connected that is always a historical preference, a tribute, jealous. >> part of the problem is covering a multitude of sins. he does not commit musical criticism the works in the same form. he will not sit down as a
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critical essay. that is approaching the wrong part of our self. he is feeling before the shrine. to have to find the form to pay homage. the problem comes when we're using the same words that they used. >> men and women again? [laughter] >> a question for the audience? is harold bloom in the room? [laughter]
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>> his comments and appreciation, everybody here is writing caucasian can you talk about the the cross diversity with race? and with a writer's life? [applause] >> that is a great question and i have been asking myself. living in new york i am used to walking down the street to see a variety of types. [laughter] here, you are not much. [laughter] in the british. it is a great question but
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it is not to criticize the organizers but it is a kind of absence that feels profound. i don't know. >> to write a book about the englishmen. >> it is much easier to cross that banned the gender line. to extol that says always be yourself. with every male or a single century. but it moves the human heart in a skiing all that they
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respond with the same sense of a tent city that coming at us similar circumstances i never felt there was a barrier there. >> interesting question. we've barely scratched the surface. >> trying to figure out how to frame this as a question. i was struck that the panel was musical to me to hear you talk. i don't think there is a big difference in what jazz
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musicians do and what is happening here. >> thank you. [laughter] [applause] >> it is always different. >> kinky for everything. with competitiveness, anxiety, a jealousy, something that is unbecoming, which i agree with, at that authors wanted to avoid, eyes agree with
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all of that, but i think it is productive, a natural. but i did not necessarily accept the idea issues that exist, does not exist, not productive, it is not attractive but it could be very useful in seems to have been dismissed too easily for me. and that may just be a male thing. >> you have a point*. >> to have been example with henry james again his relationship with george eliot is interesting.
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he reads so intensely not the way that it comes up in full but a sarcastic that has a small play and it is clear how much he took from middle march. and also he is reviewing of george eliot to create a space for himself for a novel against the one he had written. so there are good examples. the interesting ones going on now is with the ref inside africa wiide africa wiitf
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inside africa with the black writer who won the nobel prize, if you watch the way mortar has replied to each other in the pages one of them with the pier space of the novel is much more engaged novel, giving energy that is not entirely true. i thought it was worth saying once. [laughter] i will not say it again. [laughter] >> it cannot be creative. like him as a poet he may
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write a poem in response to another poem you continue the conversation. poets of do that a lot to argue do not agree that continues the conversation. we don't want to hang out with each other and make too many enemies. [laughter] >> last question? >> i am curious about the purpose of biography or how much the biographer influences his or her choice but how they approach it is. >> there are multiple purposes.
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to a certain extent is the person riding the biography. inevitably, when trying to get answers to questions, i think if somebody writes about henry james who is gay, they may look at that aspect to understand a secrecy, and covering, emotions, a translating into the argument. how do they do that in to a creative way? with the daily task of raising children to be a wife, lover? part of what people do is basically use people who
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were well known or have written things that come value as a guide to life. but often these people are interesting almost a way to take the same qualities of fiction with a real person that people are interested in that there are many different roles for a biography but in the end to teach us about being human. >> that is the beauty of it they walk into a darkened house with a tiny flashlight but for me, a biography is a
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conversation with a friend so you go survey a tempestuous relationship. it is about intimacy to get closer and closer and he realized this person has it is about intimacy to get closer and closer and he realized this person has answers nobody else has. the questions keep changing but the more they change, the happier that you are. >> colm toibin, rosalind brackenbury, pico iyer, julie salamon, thank you. wonderful audience. [applause]
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>> i feel it is great with predators on writers but maybe it is too broad. told reuters on told reuters. station -- writers. but i am pleased, more pleased with myself that i manage to get here that eyes we can on this biographers saying without having written a biography.
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and to talk about the "the novelistic essay & the essayistic novel" and i hope you have that hand out which i hope succeeded to grab your attention. i will frame the talk about the essay and the novel with the compatibility or incompatibility between the two with a few quotations. that is one of the great things of the essay form you put things in quotations to show how clever you are. that would be a good idea considering this big question to know that i will begin by indicating of
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expanded so the first before petitions are like to read, i think of myself as the essayist producing essays is a novel form war novels is an essay form. that is straightforward. instead of writing i fill them. i think it is useful to bear in mind these of which this topic can be exported from literature to use cinema and while we are as it i made is of -- one this'll turn another quotation i never made it a leap from the feature film or the documentary. they're all just films. for what it is worth that is how i feel about my fiction.
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this is great because i can get the same lecture again with the writers on film. [laughter] but the quotation was bonus now we move on to the next. another rider that describes himself as an essayist sufficiently ingenious with writing a limited kind of fiction. which in the unlikely event of being remotely interested is also how i see myself. the next observation is from an essay for he claimed gore vidal "is too clever to be an effective novelist.
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essays, you cannot be too clever for them. that is unusual to hear people say that they value the journalism far more highly but then we have cynthia who sees the two forms as being fundamentally incompatible. they're rarely right essays but there is a corollary -- corollary to novelist and a right to an essay or deny do so within their novels. that is where the essay is firmly and unashamedly anchored in the real sensibility any of the shakespeare like